The furor caused by a bold, dog-eating pack of wolves in Two Rivers escalated on Friday when the Department of Fish and Game received an unconfirmed report of a wolf following a person near 15 Mile Chena Hot Springs Road.
"I got a phone call from someone who described a situation where a person was followed by a wolf," said department spokeswoman Cathie Harms, reached by cell phone shortly after a press release about the incident was issued at 5 p.m. "If this is true, this is not a good sign."
Officials hadn't talked to the person who was allegedly followed and knew only that it was a "young person," Harms said.
"All I know is it's something we need to check on," she said. "If it's true, it's the next level of habituation."
Wolves can become habituated and lose their fear of humans when they approach people with no negative response, Harms said. Habituation can progress to the point where wolves show aggression toward people but so far that's not the case, she said. In all of the previous accounts of wolf encounters with people in the area, the wolves ran away from people, Harms said.
"But if a wolf did follow someone, that indicates a higher level of habituation, which is grounds for concern," she said.
The report came from almost the same place where the Department of Fish and Game is holding a public meeting on Sunday to discuss concerns over the wolves, which have been roaming back and forth between Two Rivers and North Pole for more than a month.
At least three dogs have been killed and eaten - two in Two Rivers and one in North Pole - and several residents living along Chena Hot Springs Road have reported seeing wolves in their yards or on trails in the area. State wildlife officials suspect it's the same pack of five or six wolves that killed the dogs and have been seen by residents.
Department staff are following up on Friday's report and hope to find out more before Sunday's 5 p.m. meeting at the Two Rivers Church of the Nazarene, located at 14.9 Mile Chena Hot Springs Road. Biologists will share what information they have collected about the wolf pack at the meeting and will try to answer as many questions as possible, Harms said.
Several residents in the area have expressed concern about the safety of their children with wolves in the area and wildlife officials encourage parents to accompany their children to and from bus stops or while playing outside, Harms said.
If confronted by a wolf, a person should face the animal and either stand their ground or slowly back away, said Harms.
"Running from an aggressive dog increases the chance of a bite, and it's similar for wolves," she said.
If residents see wolves around their homes or on the trails, Harms said they should try to make the wolves uncomfortable by making loud noises, shooting at them or frightening them in a way that will encourage them to avoid humans.
Wolves can be shot in defense of life or property if they threaten people or domestic animals, Harms noted. She also said that hunting and trapping season for wolves is open as long as you have a hunting or trapping license. It should be noted, however, that it is illegal to shoot a wolf with a .22-caliber rifle because wolves are classified as big game in Alaska.
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.